Victory Gardens – Chapter 7

Novel

Papa phones Manny as soon as Shabbos is over and demands that he come over, intending to speak with him about Mutty’s disappearance. Esther handles the sudden change of plans good-naturedly.

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As he hiked hastily down Broadway, Manny found himself thinking about the different approaches his father, his mother, and his wife took toward life. He found himself wishing that Esther would be more like his father when it came to insisting that he be someplace.

He couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if just once, she objected and wouldn’t let him run off at a moment’s notice. However, the the possibility was so unlikely that the thought of it almost made him laugh.

In a way, Esther’s unassertive behavior reminded him things that his mother did, and this gave him pause to reflect. He knew that his mother was stronger than she acted, and that she held back from saying or doing some things out of deference to Papa’s commanding personality.

Was Esther doing the same thing? Was Manny more like his father than he realized? His steps slowed as he thought about this, the idea was so startling to him. He had always considered himself to be more like Mama, diplomatic rather than confrontational, and he believed that he was thought ful and considerate in his dealings with Esther. But perhaps she viewed him differently.

From Manny’s point of view it had always been Mutty who had stood up to Papa, who preferred to argue than to give in, and Manny wondered whether that had weighted Papa’s decision to send Mutty to Eretz Yisrael. Of course Manny knew that Papa loved Mutty fiercely, but he also had an inkling of how much of a challenge it was to raise him. Papa may have believed that the time Mutty would spend learning in Eretz Yisrael would help him to mature and develop.

As he approached Papa’s building, he was surprised to find the older man waiting in the entranceway for him to arrive.

“Finally!” he said, grabbing Manny by the arm. “What took you so long?”

“I walked down instead of taking the BMT,” said Manny, out of breath from his long, fast walk.

“When you knew I was waiting for you?” said Papa.

“Sometimes it’s faster to walk. But Papa, why are you standing out here? Where is Mama?” Manny was becoming alarmed.

“Mama is fine. She is waiting upstairs. I wanted to talk to you alone first.”

“Why? What’s wrong?” said Manny.

Papa took the telegram out of his pocket and held it out in front of him as though it were aflame.

“A telegram? You received a telegram?”

“Yes. It says that your brother has gone missing in Chevron.” Papa’s eyes were dark with worry, but Manny only shook his head and laughed softly to himself.

“Mutty missing? That sounds like him. He’s probably just gone off somewhere. He’ll be back after he has finished with whatever adventure he is on.”

But Papa’s eyes were not laughing. In fact, they looked more serious than Manny had ever seen them. “Emanuel, do you recall that fellow we bumped into on our walk last night?” asked Papa.

The walk when you implied that I should divorce my wife? thought Manny, darkly.

“Birenzweig? Does this have anything to do with what he was saying last night? You believe him? You yourself said he loved to be the bearer of bad news,” said Manny.

“I don’t know what to believe. Mama seems to think the telegram is a hoax, because it is written in English and the police are English there. What does she know from telegrams? Telegrams are always sent in English! She thought she was trying to calm me down but all she did was upset me further!”

“So you think he is really missing, Papa?” Manny tried to imagine his spry younger brother, with the wide, toothy smile and the loping gait, at the mercy of a violent Arab mob, and had to wipe the image away immediately. It was too frightening to contemplate.

“I have no idea. I can’t reach anyone there, of course, and there is no news on the radio. So there is only one thing left to do that I can think of.”

“What’s that, Papa?”

“Let’s go upstairs, and you’ll say hello to Mama first. She’ll be worried if we stay out here too long.”

Manny eyed his father warily as they walked up the one flight of stairs to the apartment. He still wasn’t used to this place. Like most of the other immigrants, his parents had started out on the Lower East Side, and even though Manny had achieved success himself, part of him still felt that he belonged down there, instead of uptown.

“Manny, dear,” said Mama, greeting him at the door. “Thank you so much for coming. Papa is so worried.”

Manny took note of how each of his parents believed the other was more worried and therefore more in need of care.

Gut voch, Mama. It’s nice to see you again.” As they sat at the table while Mama served tea, Manny turned to his father once again.

“So, Papa. What is this solution of yours? I’d like to know.”

“Well, Manny, the way I see it, like I said, there is only one possible eitzah.”

“And that is?” Manny had a sudden premonition that he was not going to like what Papa was about to say.

Papa leaned over and looked him directly in the eye. “I am old, and you are young. You will have to go over there and find your brother.”

To be continued . . .